Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Newsletter Group/Coventry Workers Association

The Labour Party: Vehicle for Socialism?


i) Trade Councils and the Labour Movemnt

A major contribution to the discussion on how working class organisation and political power can be developed has been made by the workers’ inquiry conducted jointly by Coventry, Liverpool, Newcastle and North Tyneside Trades Councils.[31] From an examination of the experience of workers in NEB financed companies, they recognised the need to develop organisation and political power in the locality and work place, as a counter to the political power of the state.

The overwhelming priority given by the Labour party in economic planning to competitive success as opposed to wider social needs could in their view be remedied by organisations with the power to control production, if backed by a genuinely socialist government. The concept is of working class organisations, with comprehensive policies based on social need, prepared to use economic power for working class objectives backed by a socialist government supporting these actions. This would be achieved by a trade union organisation so transformed that industrial power would be consciously exercised for political purposes – it would operate as a source of political power outside the existing British state and would be in opposition to the power wielded by the national and international corporations via the state.

The study makes the assumption that trades councils have the potential themselves to adopt the all-embracing political perspective that would lead to the development of the necessary structures. Some developments in this direction are already taking place, ego extended subcommittees having direct contact with shop stewards committees. This could develop further in the immediate future if trades council organisations embraced the joint union combine organisations which are emerging in response to the corporate policies of major employers. These developments are essential if they are to overcome their isolation from the mass of organised workers in the factories. With the establishment of these links, there is the opportunity to relate the struggles experienced by workers in their work places to the general class struggle and to develop a genuine working class consciousness in the movement. As these arguments are won and class consciousness develops, it is likely that there will be increasing conflict with the formal leadership of the TUC. When the break with that leadership comes, the trades councils must be sufficiently rooted in the class to both survive and develop their leadership role as independent centres of working class power.

ii) A Party of the Working Class

The working class is always organising against oppression. Some of the organisations that spring up disappear as swiftly as they appear, others live to organise the class and its continuing struggle. All of these organisations are significant in that they present the opportunity to broaden out the narrow basis of action which lead to their formation so as to embrace the wider concept of working class struggle. Although the extent to which we can be involved in any particular struggle will be dependent upon the resources available, we should always ensure that where there is struggle which has a class basis, Marxist Leninists play a role. Even where, for whatever reason, we cannot have a direct involvement, we can by our activity within the permanent organisations of the class, like the trade unions, seek to win support for and solidarity with those engaged in the struggle elsewhere.

This kind of development involves bringing together the various types of working class organisations, the unions, stewards committees, community groups, anti-racist committees, etc. It also provides the opportunity for bringing together the wealth of working class experience, ideas and perspectives that are the products of involvement in; these different areas of struggle. It is within this arena, where ideas, commitment and conviction, rather than manipulation, will win the day, that a Marxist-Leninist party can emerge and win the fight for class leadership. In this way, we shall not only ensure that we come into contact with others engaged in the same struggle as ourselves, but we shall also move towards the creation of the genuine class organisation with an integrated leadership, that alone can take power. It is from this active involvement in struggle, and the programme that is developed in relation to it, that the revolutionary perspective will be developed. We have already discussed the important contribution that trades councils can make in initiating these developments and we should not ignore the experiences and struggles that have made possible the progress achieved in a number of areas.

The essential points that emerge from those experiences is that the movement is very much wider than the Labour party and that, irrespective of the party in which they are organised, the class cannot delegate its struggles to parliamentary representatives, but must develop its own fighting organisations at grass roots level. It is this view that underlies the current debate about democracy in the Labour party which challenges the total commitment to parliamentarianism which has so far characterised the Party. The main omission, in our view, both within the joint trades councils’ analysis and in the Labour Party discussion, is any consideration of the nature of bourgeois democracy. International experience has demonstrated time and time again that democracy only survives within a capitalist society so long as it serves the interests of capital. That we can expect the same response from the British state is revealed by the Cecil King/Mountbatten talks during the Wilson Government.[32] The British state and the trappings of democracy associated with it exist to ensure the continuing domination of capital over labour.

When democracy no longer achieves that objective, then other solutions will be resorted to. We are not saying here that democracy is worthless or that the rule of law is a bourgeois trick, for much working class struggle in this country has been about democracy and about law, and to abandon these struggles is to throwaway a whole history and tradition of working class struggle. What we wish to do, however, is to show that Marxist have more not less, to take into account all forms of struggle and all forms of class rule. The current developments in the British labour movement rest on the opposite premise – that democracy will withstand any amount of class struggle. We believe this to be at the least naive. Moves to restrict democracy are already afoot and experience has demonstrated that it can be withdrawn totally at any time considered opportune by the state. It is essential that the movement recognises that the emergence of effective working class organisations which are being advocated here will be accompanied by a rapid growth of reaction. MPs and others obliged to pursue working class policies because of their relations with these new organisations would find themselves in direct conflict with the state. It is our belief that as these developments take place, major schisms will develop within both the Labour Party and the trades union movement, and that those elements that persist in pursuing working class interests will make an invaluable contribution to the fight for socialism.

In this situation, from the experience gained in reaching it, we believe we shall have a practical base for building a party in Britain really capable of serving workers’ interests. A party to provide the organisational means of co-ordinating all struggles in every aspect of life through the party membership of those who have won the leadership on the basis of their working class politics. A party with policies that synthesise the whole experience of the class and which coincide with the practical day to day requirements, as well as the perspectives of working class struggle. A party that has won its leading position in the class by virtue of its genuine leadership of workers’ struggles and not by any constitutional claim to be communist. This is a party of the new type, which serves the class and does not seek to substitute party power for class power. A party that comprises the leadership of mass organisations, of workers which arise to deal with each phase of the class struggle, both before and beyond the revolution.


[31] “State Intervention in Industry.” Produced by Coventry, Liverpool, Newcastle & North Tyneside Trades Councils, 1980.

[32] Mountbatten-King talks. Meeting took place May 8th 1968. Reported in “Daily Telegraph” 30/3/81, 31/3/81 and 7/4/81 and in “The Times” 3/4/81.